Guardian/GCHQ names: A free press must have some balls


There was some traction today on the Guardian’s trafficking of GCHQ agents’ names abroad, because the Telegraph had the guts to challenge the cosy journalists’ club.

Written by Tom Whitehead, the story printed all my facts from yesterday’s blog, including calling the Guardian out for their earlier lies.

The British newspaper has previously announced that it has shared some of its leaked GCHQ files with international partners but insisted on at least one occasion, that the identities of British spies were not included.

The sub for the online story wrote:

Guardian under fresh scrutiny as New York Times report on leaked GCHQ files contains detailed information on eavesdroppers

It went on:

Asked last night whether this suggested the files sent to the US contained the details of British spies, a spokeswoman for the Guardian said: “It is well documented that we are working in partnership with the New York Times and others to responsibly report these stories.

The development comes ahead of the latest legal battle surrounding the GCHQ files in the High Court this week.

I am truly grateful to the Telegraph for having printed this story. The more so, because it is fair to say I cordially detest its editor Tony Gallagher, (@GallagherEditor ) and he me, as our frequent spats on Twitter will attest.

But it is fairly obvious that just about every word in Tom Whitehead’s piece came from my blog yesterday. The reason that we can safely say this is, if it were a piece of original research, it would have been written up on Sunday, when the New York Times exposed that the Guardian had handed them the NSA-GCHQ wiki, and then printed on Monday.

Here’s what didn’t come from me:

 Asked last night whether this suggested the files sent to the US contained the details of British spies

You see what Tom Whitehead did, rest of the British press? He asked them the goddamned question.

A free press depends on a ballsy press. It depends on a lack of collusion. It depends on journalists showing no fear and no favour. Will Lewis (then Telegraph) went after MPs on their expenses and the whole world cheered, and now MPs who oppose the Leveson straitjacket cite that story to fight the royal charter,

But if the UK press closes ranks, acts like those few bent coppers in the Mitchell affair, declines to ask Rusbridger and Gibson any tough questions because well, they know them, they’re mates with them, they drank with James Ball in a pub once – then that really sucks. Freedom of the press totally depends on the guts of journalists and a willingness to investigate your own, your side, your mates.

I have always been against Leveson and the Royal Charter, in Parliament and out of it. My campaign against the Guardian is on a particular issue, the fact that they have very clearly sold our intelligence agents out for money. I do give a shit about the men and women in GCHQ who protect us. Those suckers the Guardian sneered at because they only make £25,000 a year to risk their lives. I don’t believe in state control of the press, and investigating whether highly paid corporate executives like Rusbridger and Gibson have broken the law is not state control of the press. I believe that existing laws are good enough. There’s a hacking trial going on right now, isn’t there? And those saying ‘hey there have been no arrests at the Guardian’ have forgotten that  the Metropolitan police have opened a criminal inquiry after the arrest of Miranda. Don’t assume they aren’t looking at that NSA-GCHQ wiki stuff.

But if there’s going to be collusion amongst papers to protect their own, then fuck it, perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps Ed Miliband was right, and the press should be controlled by the government. Maybe @HackedOffHugh and the Brian Cathcart pizza party were on the right track at 3 am.

Here are exchanges today between me and the normally sensible journalist John Rentoul, of whom I am a long-standing admirer.

John Rentoul ‏‪@JohnRentoul

/‪@LouiseMensch Do you think you could make your case against The Guardian without using the words “lie”, “trafficking” & “mule”? Thank you

        ‏‪@LouiseMensch‬ 5h 

. ‪@JohnRentoul unfortunately not, since they lied, they trafficked, and they muled, and there is chapter and verse on all three.

 ‏‪@LouiseMensch‬ 5h 

. ‪@JohnRentoul it would be fantastic if a paper other than the ‪@Telegraph had the guts to challenge them on their lies. Like, say, yours.

  1. .‏‪@JohnRentoul‬ 3h 

‪@LouiseMensch Guardian statement to Daily Mail on 9 Oct may have been incomplete & misleading but it was not a lie. ‪–Fedex-Newspaper-used-public-courier-firm-post-data-country.html#ixzz2je7dOu7r …



@JohnRentoul‬ 3h 

‪@LouiseMensch I disagree. Deliberately misleading is different from lying. Distinction is important itself but also as a matter of tactics.

So here we have a senior, well-respected journalist asking me to drop the word “lie” and “mule” and “traffick”. When challenged, however, John admits that on October 9th the Guardian deliberately misled the Daily Mail when they denied to them that they sent agents names to America by FedEx (because they had sent them, according to the New Yorker, using James Ball, a 27 year old ex wikileaks activist). But Rentoul argues that “deliberately misleading” is different from “lying”.

FFS John, man up. Ask the bloody paper why they lied.

As to his objections to the very clear “mule” and “traffick”  I asked him:

‏‪@LouiseMensch ‪@JohnRentoul what is your objection to “mule”? New Yorker cites ‪@jamesrbuk and ‪@janinegibson boasts of flying people “round the world”

He didn’t answer.

That kind of clubby “they deliberately misled but they didn’t lie” and “don’t use mule and traffick even when Janine Gibson boasted online that that’s exactly what they did” is fear-and-favour journalism, the kind that looks after its own.

Earlier, John Rentoul tweeted that when Julian Smith MP raised a point of order about the Guardian shipping out GCHQ agents’ names, “the Speaker says it’s no such thing.” I hate to say it to a journalist I really do admire and like, but that was sheer bollocks. A point of order is almost always a rhetorical device in the House of Commons. John Rentoul, a political journalist, knows that full well, he knows it like the back of his hand. He was being dishonest. The Speaker condemned the Guardian’s “equivocation” on whether they had passed the names of spies to American papers. John didn’t have the guts to report that, however, because it didn’t fit his agenda. Paul Waugh of politics home did.

Look, British press, get some bloody balls. Challenge Rusbridger. Here is a British paper that has sold the names of GCHQ agents out for money, and you are closing ranks and not asking the questions. The New York Times is challenging Glenn Greenwald more effectively than any of you are doing. Don’t make a blogger (me) do all the heavy lifting. I am a columnist for the Sun on Sunday, and proud of it. I have featured this story again and again in my column. Do your part. I’m not an investigative journalist. Some of you call yourselves that. I don’t see much bloody sign of it. I see chumminess that would shame the smoke-filled rooms of a Tory selection committee circa 1954.

Here – off the top of my head –  are seventeen sample questions you could ask the paper, if any of you had even a tiny bit of shame. And by “the paper”, I mean Alan Rusbridger. And Janine Gibson. They are the editors. Any chance of holding them to account?

  1. The New Yorker story states that you used James Ball, a young ex wikileaks collaborator, to fly these files to New York and Brazil. Why didn’t you, Rusbridger, take that legal risk on yourself instead of pinning it to a 27 year old?
  2. Why did you lie to the Daily Mail on the 9th October when you stated the files you sent to America didn’t contain the names of any British agents?
  3. Why did you pass these files to bloggers at ProPublica?
  4. If the Guardian has broken the Terrorism Act 2000 should they be prosecuted, or are they above the law?
  5. What was the public interest for your story in August when you reported on GCHQ agents’ gay and lesbian clubs, recreational and charity drives, and the internal chats of GCHQ agents? Why were any of those details necessary? Didn’t they flag up to hostile actors just how much identifying info was in the Snowden files?
  6. Janine Gibson boasted online that ‘by far the hardest challenge has been the movement of materials – we’ve had to do a great deal of flying people around the world’. Given this boast why did you lie about David Miranda’s paid-for role, alleging that he was harassed just because he was Greenwald’s spouse?
  7. Why did you boast in August that the Snowden story had lifted your web traffic above the Daily Mail’s when you were giving out GCHQ agents’ names to achieve this? Kind of a shitty attitude, isn’t it?
  8. The New Yorker story states that Ball flew the files not only to America but also to Brazil, and Gibson uses the words “a great deal of flying around the world”. To how many countries have you shipped our agents’ names?
  9. How many people worldwide have you passed agents’ names to?
  10. Given that every exposed agent is in danger, have you let GCHQ know which agents and their families you have put at risk?
  11. Glenn Greenwald claimed that the Guardian US ran every story under his byline past the NSA for legal reasons, even though it then ignored their objections. Did you give GCHQ a similar chance to object?
  12. Are there any financial rewards or bonuses tied to increased web traffic for Rusbridger, Gibson or any other Guardian executives? If so, how much? And why did you not report that when selling GCHQ agents down the river and boasting of the traffic you derived from it?
  13. You talk about security for your files yet the New Yorker reports you kept them in a room with floor-to-ceiling windows. Are you aware how laser microphones work? In a story on 20 August you admit a government security expert had to explain this to you.  Shouldn’t you have asked GCHQ about secure storage of files previously yourselves?
  14. Given your hilarious “secure room” with the floor to ceiling windows, don’t you think it’s just possible GCHQ might be more aware of security risks than you are?
  15. What precisely is the point of saying – falsely – that you kept files “secure” when you then duplicate them and mule them, as you have said, all over the world?
  16. You’ve been happy enough to give the New York Times, some Brazilians, and ProPublica (at least) copies of the GCHQ files. How about giving a copy back to GCHQ so they can assess the damage you’ve done to the UK, as well as to their agents?
  17. What redactions did you make to the 50,000 GCHQ files you muled abroad to protect British intelligence officers? Did you make any redactions?

And I haven’t even started on the Tor story.

Come on, British press. Show some guts. Do your jobs. There are 6100 agents at GCHQ, so the Guardian tells us. They cannot strike. They cannot protest. They cannot email Alan Rusbridger asking why he is giving the NSA-GCHQ wiki to the New York Times. They have no voice.

You are meant to be their voice. No fear, no favour. Do your bloody job. Have some balls.

* and to those who might think this sexist, I will quote the great Sharon Osbourne: “Women have balls. They’re just higher up.”


  1. Bob Stevens · November 5, 2013

    Thankfully, you are not in a position of responsibility any longer.

    • louisemensch · November 5, 2013

      au contraire, Blackadder. I am in a position of responsibility. I’m a journalist.

  2. C257198 · November 5, 2013

    Thank you for saying that

    • louisemensch · November 5, 2013

      you’re welcome. Let’s hope the press will challenge their own on behalf of those who can’t

    • louisemensch · November 5, 2013

      and if you are a GCHQ agent and/or anybody working in our intelligence services, 1. I’m so sorry this has happened to you and 2. Thank you for your service

  3. SlingTrebuchet · November 5, 2013

    “details of British spies,”

    Are we talking about e.g. extracts from the internal Wiki and a user handle “Bryan”?
    Are terrorists currently huting down Bryan’s world-wide?

    I can imagine Bryan going through a security gate…

    Agent: Passport or ID please.
    “Bryan”: My name is Bryan
    Agent: I need an approved photo ID
    “Bryan”: Lookit. My name is Bryan. That should be enough.

    • louisemensch · November 5, 2013

      You are making the usual Greenwaldinista mistake of saying that all that matters is if names or identifying details of agents are PUBLISHED.

      It doesn’t matter if they’re published. The NYT newsroom can see them. The blogging network at pro publica has got them. they’ve been shipped to Brazil. Every single person with access to those names can spread them to inifinte other people. They can tell their friends, colleagues, spouses, and those people can pass them on in turn.

      That’s why it’s not just a terrorist offence to publish the names but to communicate them. That’s what the Guardian did and that’s what Rusbridger needs to come clean on. How many countries? How many people? Exactly how many GCHQ names are out there, right now, because of him?

      • louisemensch · November 5, 2013

        Comment from Sling Trebuchet, reposted by me with a redaction

        No. You miss the point.

        As far as I know the names/identities that you are concerned with are user handles in the Wiki.

        It may be that there is someone in the [redacted LM] listening station whose first name is Bryan. Is this person now in danger?
        I would say that he would be in no more danger that he would have been if the Wiki username “Bryan” had not become known.
        Those who would do him harm would have to locate him – i.e. the listening station. If they can do that, they don’t need any names.

        “Every single person with access to those names can spread them to inifinte other people. They can tell their friends, colleagues, spouses, and those people can pass them on in turn.”
        There are about 1.4 Million people who have US Top Secret clearance. ONE MILLION, FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND —- FFS!!!
        480,000 of those are private contractors – like Snowden.
        There are about 1000+ privately contracted System Administrators just like Snowden. The nature of their work entails supervisory-level access to systems. They are gods. THe NSA is setting out to replace them with computers Good luck with that.
        Manning, an army private, sitting in a tent in Iraq had access to diplomatic files that he had no earthly need to know about.

        These super-scecret secrets are sitting in the equivalent of a huge rusty slurry tank. “Everything” is Classified. Way too many people have access to really secret secrets just so they can have access to the (classified) canteen menu – sort of thing.

        HM Gov were concerned that the files on an air-gapped computer in the Guardian office might somehow be accessed by outsiders.
        They really ought to be more concerned that all of that information ++and more++ is accessible by – for starters – 1000+ private contractors like Snowden.
        As you say : “Every single person with access to those names can spread them to inifinte other people. They can tell their friends, colleagues, spouses, and those people can pass them on in turn.” Hey they could Tweet the stuff! Facebook it. Times are hard, they could sell it.

        What exactly do *you* understand by ‘names of agents’? I’ve seen reports of Wiki handles. These would not be useful in identifying particular individuals.
        It sounds like they got the “James” part of “Bond – James Bond”.
        Actually, that’s not a good parallel. They got the “Fred” part of “Smith – Fred Smith” – a guy who mans a desk in an office somewhere.

        On a wider theme, you seem to miss the point that the legality of what the out-of-control security services are up to is very questionable. The US has a Constitution, and it would appear to have been breached. The UK citizen is unfortunately not proteted in that way.
        You also miss the point that this indiscrimate trawling of communications is a turn-key system for totalitarianism. The rocks need to be turned over so ordinary people can see what the creepy-crawlies are up to.

  4. SlingTrebuchet · November 6, 2013

    I do agree with you that “A free press must have some balls”.

    They might try to grow the kind of balls exhibited by this Google security engineer….

    Extract: (with naughty word munged) …

    I now join him in issuing a giant F**k You to the people who made these slides. I am not American, I am a Brit, but it’s no different – GCHQ turns out to be even worse than the NSA.

    We designed this system to keep criminals out . There’s no ambiguity here. The warrant system with skeptical judges, paths for appeal, and rules of evidence was built from centuries of hard won experience. When it works, it represents as good a balance as we’ve got between the need to restrain the state and the need to keep crime in check. Bypassing that system is illegal for a good reason .

    Unfortunately we live in a world where all too often, laws are for the little people. Nobody at GCHQ or the NSA will ever stand before a judge and answer for this industrial-scale subversion of the judicial process. In the absence of working law enforcement, we therefore do what internet engineers have always done – build more secure software. The traffic shown in the slides below is now all encrypted and the work the NSA/GCHQ staff did on understanding it, ruined.

    Thank you Edward Snowden. For me personally, this is the most interesting revelation all summer.

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